When one thinks of Moorestown, “affordable” is most likely not the first word to come to mind. That’s where local nonprofit MEND, Inc. (Moorestown Ecumenical Neighborhood Development) comes in. For the past 50 years, MEND has provided below-market rental apartments for low- and moderate-income families and individuals in Moorestown, and more recently, some of its surrounding municipalities.
MEND was founded in 1969 by nine local churches with a focus on developing, building, owning and managing affordable rental housing. The organization predates the state Supreme Court’s “Mount Laurel” decision declaring unconstitutional any municipal land use regulations that prevent opportunities for low- and moderate-income housing and the establishment of the Council on Affordable Housing in 1985.
“What these gentlemen did back in 1969 was purely based on their sense that there were people in Moorestown who were ill-housed, probably in dangerous housing, and they felt that it was their civic and Christian duty to try to help,” said Matt Reilly, president and CEO of MEND since 2001.
In the 1970s, Reilly was working in affordable housing farther north in Newark where there was a lot of such activity with nonprofits in urban areas. According to him, at the time, MEND was a unique organization in South Jersey, there wasn’t nearly as much going on to address housing issues.
Their first major milestone was reached in 1978 with the development of an 18-unit apartment complex on Beech Street known today as Beech Street Apartments. This would be the first of many similar projects MEND would undertake over the course of the next 41 years that have transformed the fabric of Moorestown as we know it today.
“From that point they just kept moving ahead, seeing different opportunities in Moorestown to produce housing,” said Reilly.
Part of what makes Moorestown such an attractive area for families is its excellent school system. Given the average cost of living, however, many families are boxed out of the opportunities afforded children who are able to attend these schools. Reilly sees part of MEND’s mission as extending these opportunities to a wider range of people.
“Living here in Moorestown is an opportunity for them to send their children to schools where they are sure to get a good education,” said Reilly. “Pretty much everyone thinks that the opportunities to advance in our society financially, socially and every other way are very much influenced by the quality of education received in the younger years.”
Recently MEND has started branching out into other communities in South Jersey, working with surrounding municipalities looking to fulfill their affordable housing obligations.
According to Reilly, his organization sees firsthand the need for affordable housing options in the area, and the rapid pace at which its housing projects fill up is proof of this.
“There’s such a demand and a need for affordable housing that filling up the developments as we build them is never an issue,” said Reilly.
To date, MEND has developed 718 affordable apartment units across nine towns throughout the area. Its most recent project has been the development of senior housing on Riverton Road in Cinnaminson. This latest project will bring its total number of apartment units up to 771 when it opens this fall.
MEND’s 50th anniversary celebration took place Friday, Oct. 4 at The Merion in Cinnaminson. The organization’s founder, Boyce M. Adams, who passed away in 2006, was honored along with Reilly as the current president. Ahaji Schreffler was a featured speaker and shared her story of transitioning from a MEND resident to a homeowner and MEND board member.
For more information on MEND, visit its website at mendinc.org.